[02.02.00] » by Aeris32

A gentle breeze whispered through the silent trees as night embraced the land. The Sweegy woods were but a shadow across the darkened landscape because the sliver of visible moon cast little of its silvery light. A small dot of red could be seen from a distance; the telltale glow of a small campfire. Barely perceptible as if the builder wanted to remain hidden from prying eyes.

The camp belonged to a lone man. Arrayed about the fire were his belongings as well as his steady mount, a chocobo, that lay near the fire its bulk moving rhythmically up and down. The man sat on a short stump ignorantly crushing mushrooms growing from its ancient crevices. He was intently at work sharpening his sword which never seemed to keep it's edge. He continuously blinked his dark eyes to keep them focused against the flicker of the fire's light dancing along the steel blade.

He sniffed the cool air as he worked letting the wind carry him the scents of the fresh wood and grasslands that lay beyond. He treasured each breath as if it would be his last. He paused in his work and closed his eyes to take in the silence of his little camp; much more quiet and calm then the camps he was used to. He sighed heavily as he opened his eyes to the world once again and studied the brush and trees around him. How alive they looked! Playfully dancing shadows wrapped themselves around the trees in a loving embrace.

A crack and a low whine caused him to leap to his feet sword in hand; already the ballet he had watched faded into dream. His eyes narrowed as he watched a shadow that moved with purpose directly towards his fire. A man leading his mount soon became visible against the forested back drop. The newcomer stopped cautiously when he spied the blade man's hand. The newcomer's chocobo sniffed towards the sleeping chocobo which still rested undisturbed.

"Greetings," the newcomer said slowly holding his arms out wide, "I mean no harm I just wish to share your fire. The roads are dangerous these days there is safety in numbers."

"Agreed," said the man with the sword, "If you mean no harm please make yourself comfortable." He sat slowly back down and resumed his work, but his eyes still watched the newcomer. In truth he was curious about anyone who would travel the roads late at night. Despite its beauty Sweegy Woods was a breeding ground for some dangerous beasts.

The newcomer unsaddled his mount and retrieved a small knife and block of wood from his pack. He was garbed in dark traveling clothes dusty from the road. It was not the clothes of the newcomer that had his attention; it was the cloak the newcomer wore. It looked in the darkness to be a luxurious blue with piping that appeared to be wrought of gold. The sword at the newcomer's belt also had the man's attention.

"If you're going to share my fire, you should introduce yourself," the man said softly to the newcomer setting down his sword and arching a dark eyebrow.

"My apologies," the newcomer said with a start, "my name is Nathaniel. Nathaniel Bohwin. I am glad sir, that you let me use your fire." The man studied Nathaniel's face as he spoke. It was thin with a touch of age and a knowing luster to his eyes. Nathaniel had seen much of the world; perhaps too much.

"I'm Julius." he replied after a few seconds, "And I'm glad to have the company. It is a dangerous time."

Nathaniel shifted his position to sit more comfortably, "I can hardly believe the madness. One war ends and another begins. I wonder if it will ever end." He sighed softly as if he had a personal stake in the new conflict. One of succession, a reason for the nobility to fight again. Prince Larg and Prince Goltana. One of abducted nobles. Julius shook his head as well.

"Madness is the best word to use I guess." Julius whispered softly. He remembered back to the days of the Fifty Year War. The heroes that emerged from that time of madness: Count Orlandu, the famous ‘Thundergod Cid', whose blade rag out for justice. Balbanes Beoulve the man who was credited with ending the Fifty year war even though he was on his deathbed. His son the brave Zalbag who became a successful general and leader. He wondered who would be the heroes of this war.

"I beg your pardon?" Nathaniel asked from across the fire and Julius realized he had spoken the last out loud. "I guarantee the heroes will all be the nobility. Those that fight and die are never given that status. Especially since when they rise from the mud of the villages that the nobility grind into dust."

Julius frowned at those words. He remembered fighting with the Hokuten to destroy the Death Corps whose ‘noble' ideas were often practiced by thugs and rogues who only wanted to hurt those that had robbed them of their dignity. Too bad they were blinded to the fact that they had robbed themselves of their own dignity when they decided to bad together for revenge instead of change. "I'm sorry," Nathaniel murmured as he spied the frown on Julius' face, "It's just that I've seen many of my friends die in the battlefield all to decide who kidnapped who. Or who rules who. I wish the church would step in and end this already. They alone have the power to."

"I don't have as much faith in the church." Julius replied as he shifted himself to get more comfortable. He had a sneaking suspicion about Nathaniel being a soldier somewhere, but this had clinched it. He wondered if the man still fought; would be interested in going with him to rejoin the Hokuten at Dogoula Pass. He seemed to despise war as much as Julius, but at least he'd have another friend with him.

"I always put my faith in God." Nathaniel replied simply.

Julius looked down to the White Lion on the pommel of his sword. He had always had faith in that emblem; always had faith he was doing right. He looked upwards to the sky and saw only stars; he never had faith in God. Julius looked to the emblem on the sword once more and found himself doubting that symbol as well.

Julius only had faith in his friends, and most of them lay in shallow graves on blood soaked fields.

"What is it?" Nathaniel asked as the silence grew longer.

"I grow weary of this whole bloody mess that Ivalice has become. The church branding people heretics. The Hokuten trying to impose Larg's will while spilling the blood of Goltana's men. Goltanna trying to flank Larg and spilling the blood Larg's soldiers. The Abduction of Princess Ovelia." Julius' voice grew with each spoken injustice. When he stopped, the silence seemed eerie and uncomfortable.

"I tire of this endless war. Of backstabbing fiends and conscienceless plotters all trying to become king or prince or whatever suites them. Most of all , " Julius' voice cracked with unshed tears," most of all I don't want to watch my friends die around me. I don't want to hold them as they plead for me to say goodbye to loved ones for them.

"That is why I asked to leave. I asked to leave the White Lion behind and say the goodbyes I promised I would. Held young wives as they cried themselves to sleep. Promised stoic fathers that their son died with honor. Died a hero's death." He realized he was shaking but the emotional release was overwhelming. He had to let it out. "From all I've seen of this war there will be no heroes. Only puppets, manipulaters, and those that gave their lives for what they thought was right."

Nathaniel sat across from him looking over the flickering flames, but he felt much closer to Julius. He had seen as much as Julius, but the knowledge he now possessed had sealed their fate. theirs was a friendship that could not be. A friendship that could never be. His own eyes burned with the tears of shared horrors and atrocities. They understood each other. It was an odd thing to know one's enemy was a reflection of oneself.

"You serve Larg?" Nathaniel asked, but he already knew the answer to that question.

Julius sighed and held his sword up enough to show the White Lion emblazoned on the pommel. He waited for Nathaniel's nod before placing the sword back on the ground. "Does it matter?" he asked with a touch of bitterness in his voice.

"I serve Goltana." came the soft reply.

"So you are my enemy." Julius summed up the situation with biting sarcasm. He watched to see if Nathaniel went for his blade, but Nathaniel's only motion was a slow shaking of his head. Deep sorrow rooted in Julius' heart; they could have been friends. He swallowed hard, perhaps he would end up running Nathaniel through at the front. The madness of the conflict once again touched him; infuriating him.

"I am your enemy in politics, not in mind or heart." Nathaniel said softly, as if reading the thoughts of the man across the fire. A man that now seemed almost a hundred miles away. "I am on my way to meet up with my unit at Zeltennia Castle. My grandmother lives in a villiage not too far from here, Boniast I believe. She has taken ill in the last month according to my sisiter's letters. I left to visit her as the front began to shift. the Nanten should be on the move as we speak."

"Are you sure you should trust your enemy with such knowledge?" Julius asked warmly, glad that the man had not gone for his sword. They were brothers in spirit if nothing else. Julius had to smile.

"About which," the man replied with a returned smile, "the moving army or my sister?"

A shared laugh echoed through the shrouded woods which did not seem so silent, or lonely, anymore.

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